Room for Debate takes on the back-cover blurb

What would happen if bookstores shelved books with the back cover facing out?

 

Over at the New York Times’s Room for Debate blog, they are tackling a subject near and dear to any publisher — the coveted back-cover blurb.

At any launch meeting, the question invariably comes up — “Who do you think will blurb this for us?” And there is never an easy answer to this question. There are some authors who never blurb (Read Bill Morris’s thoughts in “Why I’ll Never Again Blurb a Book”), there are favors called in from past or future authors, debates over whether we have a blurb to appeal to each subject-specific audience for a book (a mathematician AND a physicist for example for a book about physical math), and then there is the shuffling of blurbs — which endorsement should be in the first spot, which in the second, the third, and on.

But, these blurbs are very important — particularly in academic publishing — as signaling devices for audiences inundated with scholarly monographs. The prominence of the blurber says something about the quality of the book or the prospects of the author (or so we hope!) and the uses of the book are often clarified (course use? professional use?).

In academic publishing, it seems that the blurb is here to stay, but what do you think of them? Do you trust or ignore them? Have you ever made a purchasing, or perhaps non-purchasing, decision based on blurbs? Any particularly memorable blurbs from books past?